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Assessing de Blasio: Affordable Housing

Tom Angotti Mar 4, 2016

Bill de Blasio’s housing plan promises to build and preserve 200,000 units of “affordable” housing in 10 years. It may deliver on the numbers, but most of the housing won’t be affordable to those who need it the most. And, contrary to the claims from City Hall, the mayor’s zoning plans will fuel gentrification and displacement instead of stopping it.

This mayor’s approach is not significantly different from the housing plans of previous mayors, also defined by their quantitative goals, incentives to private developers and subsidies to middle- and upper-income households. Still, de Blasio’s policies are presented with a new twist.

Unlike Bloomberg, de Blasio’s team supported limiting rent increases in rent-stabilized buildings. They also talk a lot about neighborhood preservation and planning with people. But the talk is getting them in trouble because people who pay attention see it for what it is — just talk. All of the action is going into getting more housing units — even if that feeds gentrification and displaces current residents and businesses. Also, de Blasio has revived and surpassed Bloomberg’s failed plan to privatize public housing. He has leased some buildings to landlords and plans to build new housing with private partners on New York City Housing Authority land. He privatized one public library site in Brooklyn to get a few “affordable” housing units and is planning to privatize another. 

This is just the beginning. Mayor Bloomberg rezoned huge areas of the city, giving upscale developers plenty of new opportunities to make a killing. It’s now de Blasio’s job to rezone the prime territory that’s left, also to spur new development. These are communities of color that are already facing gentrification and displacement. This is where the administration’s rhetoric about community preservation and planning is being deployed with gusto, along with a new tactic, inclusionary zoning.

The mayor’s proposal for inclusionary zoning, soon to be up for a vote in the City Council, would require that a proportion of new housing built in rezoned areas be permanently affordable to people who meet specific income limits. In principle, this is a good idea. In practice, the rezonings in communities of color are bound to result in the displacement of more affordable housing units than they create. And most of the “affordable” units would be out of reach for existing residents. 

Facing intense community opposition, this “progressive” mayor may well get thrown off his high horse. He may get some of these rezonings, but at what price? Will his supporters in communities of color decide to stay home during the next election instead of going out to the polls?

Finally, de Blasio’s stumbling over the homeless issue suggests there is something to the claim that he has ignored the more than 60,000 people who have no place to sleep. These are people who cannot wait for, or qualify for, his affordable housing units. While recent moves to reduce the use of shelters and provide permanent housing are good, it remains to be seen whether he can deliver. The mayor is, however, pacifying his conservative critics by unleashing more police to round up the homeless. 

Tom Angotti is professor of urban affairs and planning at Hunter College and the Graduate Center. He is the author of New York for Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate.  

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